Warning Signs

By Maj. Dan Blackmon

In LEO/Mil

February 26, 2010

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Ignorant people often blame their mistakes on a fitness program rather than their own misuse of that program. Maj. Dan Blackmon, U.S. Army, believes athletes need to get educated to take responsibility for their health, safety and fitness.

One of the most common misconceptions among military/LEO folks is that CrossFit is dangerous.

I’m a major in the United States Army and a trainer at Black and Gold CrossFit at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, and I’m saying CrossFit isn’t dangerous. What’s dangerous is an unsupervised version of “CrossFit” performed by athletes who don’t understand the movements, the programming and the methodology behind Coach Glassman’s program.

Guess what, everyone? Rock climbing is dangerous! So is driving, playing soccer, playing basketball and rappelling. You know what all those things have in common? Soldiers do them every day. They have another thing in common: there are rules, standard operating procedures, coaches, classes, etc. in place to teach soldiers how to do these activities. Yet when it comes to fitness, we leave it to the discretion of individuals who may or may not have the first clue about training.

The training we are doing right now in mass quantities is wrong, ineffective, improperly resourced and not conducted by the right people. Sometimes, misguided attempts at functional training actually represent a step away from where we need to go. We need to take the time to properly train our athletes and coaches. CrossFit can provide that training, and it is important that we continue to leverage that.

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27 Comments on “Warning Signs ”


wrote …

Love this Article. CrossFit is viewed as "dangerous" where I am stationed. The fact that the general public is so misinformed about CrossFit and Fitness in general amazes me. I agree with the fact that we do need trainers, this stuff can be dangerous, but I question the willingness of servicemembers to abandon the old school thinking on fitness to adopt the CrossFit Methodology. Some people that I have talked to have stuck with the principal "if it ain't broke, dont fix it" But it is broken. I know a guy who can deadlift 600 pounds, but can't run a mile without stopping, I know someone who can run a 7:45 mile and a half, but can deadlift his bodyweight. The all around capacity to preform work is what the military needs to focus on. When we are overseas we arent running marathons or entering powerlifting events. We are running, jumping, lifting, throwing, squating etc, and in some cases all the movements we do in Iraq and Afghanistan are for time. Thank you for this article and sorry for the rant.


wrote …

Safety is the last refuge of the anachronistic idiots responsible for the "Fitness Facilities" on our bases. Safety was the excuse used in Okinawa to not put bumper plates, kettlebells, rings and other equipment in our facilities. Congrats on staying the course and your success.


replied to comment from Mark Losack

Hey Mark! If the lifting shoe fits. That's one way to get the gear you want! I have customers who are constrained in what they buy due to the economic realities, but if we put "safety' in the product description, it gets waved right through!


wrote …

Major Blackmon, is it only ignorant people who make mistakes or can smart people also do them? Well-intentioned trainers also can make errors that lead to injuries to their clients, many of whom are new to this style of training. I don't want to quibble though, I was just fascinated by an article starting with the word "ignorant people."


replied to comment from Mark Konen

I neglected to add I enjoyed reading "Warning Signs" and would love to overhead squat an artillery shell in my box!


wrote …

Major, spectacular article. I'm using CrossFit to ready myself for Boot Camp at MCRD Parris Island and I can also attest that CrossFit makes one a better golfer (if I just practiced as much as I CF).


I think you might be confusing ignorance with stupidity.


wrote …

Mark--I guess what I mean is people who think they are doing CrossFit and are not, fall into the realm of ignorant. Also people who think CF is one dimentional are ignorant to the program. I just have run into too many people who claim that CF won't work for them because of X reason or it is too hard, or even more laughable, it is too easy. Lots of "smart" people are working towards fitness using other methods. It is just ignorant in my mind to judge something without gaining as much knowledge as possible first. I'm sure we have all been guilty of this at some point in our lives.

On a different note. Thanks to Pat Sherwood and Mike Warkentin for the help on this article. Pat for giving me the idea and Mike for not making me sound like a knuckle dragging moron. I welcome any and all comments from those of you out there.


wrote …

Great article sir. I guess I am where you were a few years. We are attempting to put together a CrossFit club at the United States Merchant Marine Academy. I'd love to learn from your experience since we'll be operating in a very similar environment. Our goal is to increase the fitness level of Midshipmen that choose to go Army as well as grow the community.


replied to comment from Mark Konen

So many Marks...we sound like a hair-lip dog...Mark, Mark...
WRT equipment, etc, the Marine Corps provided said equipment to MCCS Okinawa to outfit the facilities. The head of MCCS balked at putting the equipment in the gyms, citing safety as his primary concern, while continuing to find space for a variety of new machines. Anyone who has been in a military gym see allot of people doing long term harm by lifting improperly. If safety was truly a concern for MCCS or anyone, then everyone would have to go through a weight training class before being allowed into the weight room...oops, I may have put an idea into their bureaucratic minds...mea culpa.


replied to comment from Mark Losack

Dan has it right. The fitness center management is hell bent on doing "Crossfit-like" training under the guise of "functional fitness." Management cites their trainer's certifications from ACE or other body-building focused organizations. They attempt to apply a chest and tri's, back and bi's paradigm to their programming with the idea that you still need to run long, slow distances for adequate "cardio" conditioning...very sad.


Frank DiMeo wrote …

Well said, Sir!


wrote …

Major Blackmon,
Great article. I applaud your effort at the putting this all into words. As a Marine Officer, former affiliate (PCS'ed from CF Fort Meade last year and still miss it every day) and a Level II CF trainer I couldn't agree more. Common sense isn't yet written into the curricula of any of the service academies nor in any boot camp or OCS. It's often a surprise to those outside of the Armed Forces that more damage is done from misguided attempts at physical training, most of which are sports and recreation not really PT, than anything else. I have seen many of the examples you cite; people who think CF is 'too easy', or who just train met-con hurtfests or in some other way show that they don't get really the program or how to properly implement it. As most people are aware both the Army and Marine Corps have issued directives towards increasing the 'Functional Fitness' of their members. Although the intent was clear the implementation seems doubtful. Properly sourced and supervised CrossFit training, as you point out, would greatly contribute. The message I took from this article was your personal feeling of responsibility to ensure that where CrossFit is done, it is done true to the program. The services take the care to do this with many other types of dangerous training (I recently had mandatory training at getting out of a rolled over vehicle as just one example). So much good could be done for the training of our military if there was a concerted effort to ensure that CrossFit could be done in a safe and effective manner, true to the program, on every base, post, and facility in garrison and deployed. That so many military affiliates (official and unofficial) are seen across the services is part of the 'proof in the pudding' that we need to organize and supervise the current CrossFitters as well as ensure that all those who try it do so safely and effectively.
Your article is going into the required readings for all those who come to me to find out about CrossFit. Thanks for your contributions, keep fighting the good fight.
Capt John Hoffner, USMC


wrote …

I am a Marine in NC and have to say I agree with your article. I have this exact argument with my wife, who is the above mentioned MCCS functional fitness instructor/department head, holding numerous accredited certifications as well as a degree in exercise physiology (she also has a 3:21 Fran and a 400+ Fight Gone Bad).
The dangerous thing about CrossFit is that as you said, a level 1 cert is a mile wide and an inch deep. Any Joe Schmoe can pay a thousand bucks, sit through a two day level 1 certification and proceed to teach whatever he/she wants and call it 'CrossFit' even though it may not follow the methods of the program. What is the failure rate of a level 1 cert? I specifically remember watching a couple of individuals pull the tags off of their Vibrams' five finger shoes and their expensive athletic attire prior to not being able to hold a squat for 20 seconds during a group demo while the trainers walked around critiquing everyone.
I like to think that in the last year these individuals have taken pride in increasing their knowledge and fitness, but who really knows? Obviously anyone on this forum is professional enough to spend their free time trying to increase their knowledge and learn from other's experiences. But as CrossFit continues to grow there will be plenty of CrossFit certified trainers that may or may not be able to program, much less correct proper form on a snatch or split jerk.


wrote …


Great and very timely article. Fighting half-assed CrossFit has been a goal of ours here at Fort Hood and the way we have run our certs and tried to spread trainers throughout all the units on post has definitely been a step towards mitigating that.

We constantly stress to our new Level 1 trainers that anyone can crush their Soldiers with a WOD but their job is to prepare them for comabat and if they don't program well and don't enforce proper technique, they will injure their Soldiers and and hurt the combat readiness of their unit.

Your article should be mandatory reading for all military affiliates.



wrote …

I think that the Crossfit website is designed for anyone with a computer and a serious desire to improve
their physical condition to be successful with a minimal risk of self- harm. What other reason can there
be for this vast accumulation of empirical data available on-line at no cost? If we aren't supposed to coach
and teach ourselves, then what is the purpose of the ga-zillion priceless videos and articles that I have
been poring over these past 18 months? And just who do you think is working out in these garage-gyms
that you so elegantly discribe and even tell us where to buy climbing-ropes and gymnastic rings. I may be
ignorant of the danger that I may do to myself, but thanks to the beautiful video "Progressions to muscle-ups"
by Jason, this 66 year old is about to get his first muscle-up. TGFCF.


wrote …

I can see what Dan is saying as I am having trouble here at the fire hall convincing most of the guys that if done properly crossfit is the best thing going. I have two others on my side and they just love the results they have recieved from this.

Capt Wyatt53


wrote …

One point not mentioned in the article, but illustrated well by the rock wall climbing analogy, is that every form of physical activity can be dangerous, but some are far more dangerous than others, especially when implementing across previously untrained participants. What I think is missing from this article is an analysis of the cost/benefit of injury/level of job-specific fitness gained.

For example, basketball is referred to as dangerous and has been eliminated based on the high injury rates, but the author does not seem to lament this fact too much. I'm guessing that’s because he does not feel that there is a significant loss to job-specific fitness by banning basketball.

So if comparing CF to the current PT program, shouldn't the question be what is level of job-specific fitness gained compared to the injury rate. For example if CF increased fitness by 50% and injuries by 3%, it would seem to be a good trade off. But what if fitness improved 3% and injuries increased 25% (or serious injuries increased 10%)? Then I would argue it should not be implemented. Also if you have two programs, one of which participants can do on their own with little to know instruction but with more expensive machines vs a program that requires coaches and certifications, the cost should be included in the analysis.

To simply say no program is dangerous only people screwing up the program are dangerous to me seems too simplistic. If you have two schools of chainsaw juggling and one starts you on live chainsaws the first day while the other starts you with tennis balls, I would argue that one school is more dangerous and more likely to involve injuries. You can have reckless programs as easily as you can have reckless coaches (please understand that I’m not suggesting CF is a reckless program, just trying to point out that you can’t just put all of the blame on the participants). There are sports that are inherently more dangerous than others and the same is true for workout programs.


wrote …

The article "
Elite Soldiers, Elite Fitness"

By Staff Sgt. Matt Kostielney

published 15 Oct 2009 in this journal addresses this very question. Staff Sgt. Kostielney kept records on fitness improvement and injuries for several classes and found improved fitness and reduced injuries.


wrote …


Excellent job on the article. It was an honor to come to your facility and see the great program you all have created. I hope our paths cross again!



wrote …

No one who has spent a great deal of time, money, or effort wants to admit they could have been doing something better. Often their methods have to fail them so they can find a better way. "Shut up and F***ing try it." was what I was told. 2 weeks later, I'll never do anything else. I went to school and played sports but most of what I learned was crap. Tough pill to swallow sometimes. Gets tougher when someone else tries to shove it down your own throat. I'm sure some officer's ass is on the line for the army's fitness program. I say promote with respect and continue what is currently working. Show the way, it's not like there aren't tons of military such as yourself that are improving the standards, just look at the new affiliates.


wrote …

Enjoyed your article and must say that you are spot on brother. I have some of the same frustrations that you have shared here. I've been in the Army now for almost 20 years and one of the greatest frustrations that I have with the Army is our inability to transform our PT program. We seem to be able to transform everything else but we seem to have lost sight of one of the most important and basic tenents of what we do, and that is our physical fitness. However, you know as well as I do, it's been that way with whatever we've changed over the last twenty years, whether it be the OER or gunnery tables. It's like ripping up old carpet. We've gotten into a rut with PT. The daily dozen, run a couple of miles and call it quits. Whatever it takes to score the highest possible on your PT test. The thing is, it's deeper than that and most of us that have been at the Company level in combat have seen it first hand and fortunately some of our senior leaders are starting to take notice also. Call it a revolution if you want to but I think we are actually starting to get some attention on the problem. I just hope that the approved solution is an educated one and not one to just check the block! I'm going to be watching this "Comprehensive Soldier Fitness Program" closely and hopefully can get our two cents in from my fighting position when it comes to the "physical" part of the plan. Take care and keep on Crossfitting.


wrote …

Great article. We are about 2 years behind you at the USAF Academy - thanks for leading the way.

Funding, facilities, and bad data all sound too familiar. We also fall into the chipper style, smoke session workouts due to very limited equipment/facilities and us inexperienced trainers. Team workouts seem to be the key to solving the limited equipment/trainer problem. We would love some ideas on scheduling quality instruction for cadets amidst their time limited schedules.

Look forward to another inter-Academy competition next year - sounds like the Merchant Marines are now players!



wrote …

We are also a few years behind here at Royal Military College of Canada. We are using the success of CF Black and Gold as a goal to strive for. We are currently in the process of attaining Club status at RMC.

We have a great facility minus a couple key pieces and have lots of interest, but have the same problems outlined by Major Blackmon.

We would love to get in on the Black and Blue Crossfit Competition in the future.


wrote …

Comment #2 Mark:

Sorry about this buddy...you are wrong about one Gym in Okinawa and that is CrossFit Torii Beach/Torii Gym. There has recently been a roughly $200,000 renovation to the building in the name of "functional fitness" and CrossFit. It is called a "functional fitness" facility but it is generally used by CrossFitters and other functional fitness like minded individuals. The Gym manager there is completely supportive of CrossFit as well as many of the other interests at what is probably one of the nicest gyms in the entire military. It is also fielded with plenty of bumpers, bars, kettlebells and other stuff. It needs some new items and a fulltime CrossFit instructor of some sort but it is there and from what I know is the first Military affiliate in CF history as well as the first military facility that had funds of that size put toward improvements. Construction and remodeling lasted months before we were able to use it. The rest of the military needs to use this gym as a model for others. It is no joke.


replied to comment from Mark Losack

I agree with this comment exactly to a tee. MCCS sucks bad!!! They are endorsing "functional fitness" programs but fall insanely short. Someone really does have it out for the CrossFit world in Okinawa. I would like to meet them someday and tell them they are doing an injustice to many soldiers and families. MCCS is shameful...not ashamed or scared to say it.


wrote …

I am in Canada and train a group of martial artists at the local base. I see some terrible versions of what I think are supposed to be Crossfit movements. I am not a trainer, yet, but I just want to go stop them before they hurt themselves! This is a great article.

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